God has given you the ability to do
something well. Itís an area of talent where you can express
your personality, find creative fulfillment and be of service to
others. It may be a technical ability; or a talent for music,
art or drama. Perhaps itís a skill in working with people--a
heart for counseling, pastoring or helping those who are
destitute. It may be an ability in science or medicine; or the
mentality for business; or a gift for working with your hands in
carpentry, sculpture or embroidery; or a skill in preparing
food. You may have a gift for communicating--through teaching or
writing. Perhaps you are gifted in some other area, or have a
unique blend of different talents.
Now, as a Christian, you face a dilemma: While using your
gift will help others, it will also draw attention to yourself.
Will this attention be spiritually unhealthy for you? Will it
cause you to think more highly of yourself than you ought to
think? And will it cause others to honor you above Christ? Is it
best just to refrain from using your gift altogether--to avoid
any ego problems, and so that Christ will be glorified in your
weakness and not in your strength?
These are not always easy questions. Itís clear that God
sometimes does call a Christian to avoid using a gift for a
time. Yet I believe itís more typically because one is insecure
than conceited. Someone who thinks poorly of him- or herself in
general may be basing self-worth too strongly on a particular
talent. He may benefit from putting his gift aside for a while,
particularly if he is in a fellowship where people genuinely
care about him. Finding that others love her and appreciate her,
whether or not she is using her gift, will be a big boost to her
morale and confidence in Christ.
The tendency to stake oneís identity too strongly on a gift
can be especially strong for a new believer who has brought
either poor self-esteem or an inflated self-image into the
Christian life. Thus, Paul declares, ďNever be in a hurry to
ordain a manĒ (I Tim 5:22)--cautioning against putting a new
Christian in a leadership position who hasnít developed the
maturity in Christ to handle the honor involved.
Gifts and Calling
But while God sometimes does call a Christian to disregard a
talent, this seems to be the exception in the normal Christian
life. The overwhelming emphasis in biblical teaching is upon
using our gifts and employing them in service to Christ.
Very little is said about the occasional situation where God may
ask us to hold back. Rather, we are told in strong language in
various places to get about the business of using the gifts God
has given us, and to give our full attention to developing them.
Paul minces no words in Romans 12:3-8, for instance:
Donít cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance,
but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the
light of faith that God has given to you all. . . . Through the
grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching,
let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving
others, let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let
us give all we have to our teaching; and if our gift be the
stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it.
Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let the man who
wields authority think of his responsibilities; and let the man
who feels sympathy for his fellows act cheerfully. (Phillips
Paul unquestionably condemns the bloated
ego in this passage: ďDonít cherish exaggerated ideas of
yourself or your importance.Ē But he also discourages us from
being self-deprecating or falsely humble about our talent. ďHave
a sane estimate of your capabilities,Ē he urges--in other words,
recognize your ability as a vital indication of Godís call upon
your life. Paul doesnít rule out the special situation where God
might want us to refrain from using a gift for a time; Paul
himself held back from public ministry for a while after his
conversion. Yet he makes the general principle clear: God
wants us to pursue our areas of potential earnestly.
Paul surely recognized that Christiansí motives would
sometimes be less than perfect when they use their gifts. Yet he
says nothing here about holding back on that account. Scripture
never promises that perfect purity of intention can be
part of our Christian experience this side of eternity. While
the Bible stresses that the Spirit-filled believer has
incredible resources, nowhere does it suggest that all
selfishness of motive can vanish.
If weíre not careful, weíll find ourselves waiting and
waiting for a certain purity of motive that will never come. In
the meantime, the body of Christ and the world are deprived of
the benefit of our gifts.
The Double Whammy
The self-torture we subject ourselves to in examining our
motives can be insidious. Whenever God prods us do something
constructive with our life, he inspires good intentions within
us about the step he wants us to take. We feel compassion for
those whom we hope to help, and joy over the prospects of
growing and being productive.
But almost immediately, more selfish reasons for doing what
God wants us to do come to mind. And we begin to dwell on these
less healthy intentions.
Then we go a step further. We conclude that God couldnít
possibly want us to take this step after all--because our
motives are so rotten!
I donít doubt that this mental process--which Iíve long
termed the ďdouble whammyĒ--is one of Satanís primary ways of
diverting us from being effective for Christ. First he gives us
selfish motives for doing what God wishes us to do. Then he
convinces us not to proceed because of our motives. Itís
no accident that Scripture terms him ďthe accuserĒ (Rev 12:10).
Yet the fact that weíve gone through this progression of
thought doesnít alter the fact that God has called us to take a
particular step with our life in the first place. Focusing on
our motives too much can distort our thinking and keep us
from recognizing the call of God.
Iím certainly not suggesting that we should complacently
accept selfish motives or nurture them. We should do whatever we
can to keep our intentions pure and Christ-honoring. We need to
ask Christ often to deepen our love for him, and to give us the
highest motives for what he has called us to do.
But to attempt to purify our motives merely by focusing on
them is a dead-end street. Usually, we do best to go ahead and
use our gifts, praying that as we move forward, God will mold
our intentions as he sees best. Itís by being in motion that we
give him the best opportunity to work within us--to humble us
where necessary, and to encourage us where we need it as well.
Success and Humility
We should also remember a psychological truth. We donít gain
humility by disregarding a talent or developing it only
superficially. Humility comes when we make a serious effort to
perfect a skill, only to discover that we still have worlds to
conquer. The irony is that weíre likely to feel more conceit
over a gift weíve just barely developed than one into which
weíve poured our life. The old adage still holds: ďA little
learning is a dangerous thing.Ē
Furthermore, motives--letís face it--are a murky matter.
Often it simply isnít possible to take our spiritual temperature
and determine whether our motives are good are bad. The desire
for others to like us and commend what we do, for instance, is
unhealthy if it becomes obsessive. But some desire for
othersí approval not only is healthy but necessary for
productive living. It makes us more alert to othersí needs, more
concerned with helping them and communicating effectively. Itís
part of the chemistry that binds people together in
relationships--the essence of people needing people.
Most of us, I suspect, have times when our need to be
accepted by others grows too extreme, as well as times when itís
not strong enough. Yet often we have no way of knowing for
certain whether this motive is rightly balanced. We cannot pour
our motives into measuring cups and determine exactly how they
portion out with each other, and itís futile to become too
introspective about them.
The desire to enjoy our work is another motive that often
confuses us. Many Christians feel guilty because they love their
career, for instance, or a ministry role that they fill at their
church. They fear they are not entitled to this enjoyment--that
they are to strive to enjoy God alone.
Yet Scripture extols the importance of enjoying our
work! A central theme of Ecclesiastes is that finding pleasure
in our labor is vital to healthy living (Eccl 2:24, 3:13, 3:22,
5:18-20, 9:9-10). And a major purpose of the Old Testament
festivals was to allow people to celebrate what God had enabled
them to accomplish (Deut 16:15). Indeed, an important part of
how we are to love God and honor him is through gratefully
enjoying the work he has called us to do.
Yes, work--like anything--can become an idol if it consumes
us to the point of stealing our affection away from God. Yet C.
S. Lewis had it right when he observed that our desires get out
of line not because we love things too much, but because we
donít love God enough. Trying to reduce our love for an
otherwise healthy attraction that has taken on too much
importance is not the way to keep our affections pure. Rather,
we should do what we can to increase our love for God. Thatís
the best possible step toward keeping our other interests in
Beyond the Double Whammy
Any time we decide to devote ourselves to developing and
employing a talent, we take a risk. Our ego may get too involved
in the process. Our motives may prove to be less than perfect.
We may become overly concerned with mastering the skill or being
successful with it.
Yet usually the risk is much greater if we refrain from using
our gift. Then, we deny others the benefits of our talent. We
deny ourselves the joy of using it. And we deny the Lord many
opportunities--both to work through us and to develop our
We need to ask ourselves which risk is more
worth taking. In most cases, choosing to use our gift wins hands
down. As a rule, we should seek to live in the center of our
potential as much as possible, praying that God will give us
motives honoring to Christ as we do. This approach to life will
contribute most to our being effective for Christ--and focused
on him as well.